A dramatic spike in the number of Americans with permits to carry concealed weapons coincides with an equally stark drop in violent crime, according to a new study, which Second Amendment advocates say makes the case that more guns can mean safer streets.
The study by the Crime Prevention Research Center found that 11.1 million Americans now have permits to carry concealed weapons, up from 4.5 million in 2007. The 146 percent increase has come even as both murder and violent crime rates have dropped by 22 percent.
“When you allow people to carry concealed handguns, you see changes in the behavior of criminals," said the center’s president, John R. Lott, a Fox News contributor. “Some criminals stop committing crimes, others move on to crimes in which they don’t come into contact with victims and others actually move to areas where they have less fear of being confronted by armed victims.”
Increasing gun ownership, litigation and new state laws have all contributed to the rise in concealed carry permits. In March, Illinois became the 50th state to begin issuing concealed weapons permits. But the cost and other requirements for obtaining the permits varies greatly, from South Dakota, where a permit requires $10, a background check and no training, to Illinois, where the cost of obtaining a permit comes to more than $600 when the fee and cost of training programs are taken into account.
Six states don’t require a permit for legal gun owners to conceal their weapons, and Lott notes those states have some of the lowest violent crime rates in the nation.
The real measure of the deterrent effect of concealed carry permits, according to Lott, is not laws on the books, but the percentage of a given state’s population that holds the permits. In 10 states, more than 8 percent of adults hold concealed carry permits, and all are among the states with the lowest crime rates. Lott claims his group’s analysis shows that each one percentage point increase in the adult population holding permits brings a 1.4 percent drop in the murder rate.
“We found that the size of the drop [in crime] is directly related to the percentage of the population with permits,” Lott said.
Between 2007 and the preliminary estimates for 2013, murder rates have fallen from 5.6 to 4.4 per 100,000.
Tod Burke, a former police officer and a professor of criminal justice at Radford University, in Radford, Va., said he doesn’t buy the idea that gun permits are driving the reduction in crime. Burke said several factors, including smarter, “data-driven” policing and increased incarceration of violent criminals likely play a bigger role.
“I think we have to be cautious about having a causal relationship between gun permits and a decrease in crime,” Burke said. “[Lott’s] theory is one to consider, but not to the exclusion of others.”
The report is the first tally of concealed carry permit holders since a survey in 2011 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that 8 million Americans held them.
The total of 11,113,013 Americans who currently hold concealed carry permits represents 4.8 percent of the total adult population. But the center stated that the number of concealed carry permit holders is likely much higher, because numbers are not available for all states that issue permits, such as New York. Additionally, four states and the majority of Montana do not require that residents have a concealed handgun permit to carry within the state, so the number of residents who carry a concealed weapon is not recorded.
Florida has the most active concealed carry permits, at nearly 1.3 million. Texas is second, at just more than 708,000, while Hawaii, at 183, has the fewest of states whose data was available.
Earlier this year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that California must allow law-abiding citizens to carry concealed firearms in public, striking down the core of the state's permit system for handguns. The judges found in a 2-1 holding that San Diego County’s rule that residents must show "good cause" -- and not merely the desire to protect themselves -- to obtain a concealed-weapons permit, violated their constitutional rights.
That ruling is awaiting an en banc review by the entire circuit.